Carrie Sharples who was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Carrie Sharples who was diagnosed with breast cancer.

How doctors missed golf ball-sized lump

Carrie Sharples thinks back to having to get her body scanned to see if her cancer had spread and her emotions get the better of her.

"I was so worried," she says welling up.

It should never have been that way. Ms Sharples had been in and out of doctors' appointments and hospital complaining of a red and swollen breast after finding a lump the size of a golf ball in her armpit.

Her first appointment was December. She wasn't officially diagnosed until March this year, five doctors later.

The 29-year-old from Perth found out she had an aggressive stage three breast cancer that had spread to her lymph nodes. She also had three other lumps in her breast.

But for months Ms Sharples was sent home by doctors who simply said she had an infection caused by her breast implants.

"I went to go and get seen and I didn't think much of it," she said.

"No one really mentioned cancer to me at all.

"My breast was swollen but I didn't know it was a sign of breast cancer,

"I was told I had a breast infection most likely caused by my breast implants."

 

The first time Carrie Sharples got her hair done after chemo.
The first time Carrie Sharples got her hair done after chemo.

 

Ms Sharples on the day of her surgery.
Ms Sharples on the day of her surgery.

 

Ms Sharples said a doctor told her he could do a biopsy of the original lump, but he risked spreading the infection and it was up to her if she wanted to proceed.

"Who am I to say, no doctor, go ahead and spread it," she said.

"Instead of listening to my gut I did a course of antibiotics. All the time the breast was still red and swollen, all sorts of really alarming things."

Five weeks later a new ultrasound revealed three lumps in her breast.

"In the space of about a month I had developed three lesions in my breast, that's how quickly the cancer was growing," she said.

"Obviously, I started freaking out. Again they said these were pockets of infections."

Ms Sharples was even put in hospital to further treat the infection, and when a further ultrasound apparently only showed two lumps instead of three, doctors thought the antibiotics were working.

Another plastic surgeon then told her she'd have to have her implants removed, again telling her it was an infection.

"I was pretty upset at this point and I just didn't understand why anyone wasn't ever investigating me," she said.

 

Ms Sharples’ first day of chemo with her friends.
Ms Sharples’ first day of chemo with her friends.

Finally, Ms Sharples went for a mammogram, and by that time she was "beyond frustrated".

She was then sent for an urgent biopsy after the three lumps appeared again, a month after she'd been in hospital treating a supposed infection.

"My cancer had spread," she said.

"I realised I never wanted anyone to have to wait this long.

"I don't ever want any young woman to walk in my footsteps."

Ms Sharples had to start chemotherapy straight away, which meant she couldn't do a harvest to preserve her eggs.

"I keep going back and thinking what if I had those four months, would I have been able to do an egg harvest? Would I have been able to keep my breast? What if I had not pushed the doctors?" she said.
"I'm thankful I had the instinct not to give up."

Ms Sharples had her breast removed and all of her lymph nodes in one side because 12 out of 19 were cancerous.

"Being young and having breast implants I don't think they were willing to look beyond anything," she said.

"It is only now that I have realised how close I came to a possible stage four diagnosis. What if I had given up after not being heard? It's these thoughts that have prompted me to share my story."

Ms Sharples shared her story through Pink Hope, which provides education, support and resources to women at an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

If you are concerned about your cancer risk, you can use Pink Hope's Know Your Risk Tool to help identify your risk status and, in turn, have a conversation with your doctor about ways to manage it.


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